INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard isn’t coming out and saying that his team’s ready to move on from embattled starter Carson Wentz. But Ballard’s comments at the annual NFL scouting combine about the Colts’ quarterback situation weren’t exactly a ringing endorsement of the North Dakota State product.
“Ultimately, you’ve got to have a guy that you believe in and you can win with,” Ballard said of the Colts’ quarterback situation. “That will play some into it, but ultimately, we’ll make the decision that we think is best, both in the short term and in the long term.”
Left unsaid in that comment was anything resembling a commitment to Wentz, suggesting that the Colts are willing to go into 2022 without him on their roster and that he could be available to a team like the Steelers if that’s a route they wish to pursue. Ballard’s only commitment to Wentz was that he plans to discuss Wentz’s future with owner Jim Irsay and coach Frank Reich over the next 10 days, a lukewarm position at best.
The only definitive stance Ballard took on Tuesday was that he won’t be rushed into a decision, regardless of the atmosphere around Wentz or the league.
“Whatever decision we make will be the best one for us,” Ballard said. “It’s not in my nature (to rush); I’m usually pretty objective at sitting back and not making a panic move, and we won’t. We will not just make a panic move to make a panic move. I am who I am, and I have a lot of confidence in myself and the people around me. We will figure it out.”
Ballard might be adamant that the Colts won’t make a panic move, but the NFL calendar isn’t exactly giving Indianapolis a lot of time to make that decision. If Wentz is still on the Colts’ roster as of March 18, the team will owe him an additional $12 million, along with the $15 million of fully guaranteed money attached to his contract.
At that point, the Colts’ incentive to trade him would drop drastically. They could cut him after the 2022 season and owe him nothing for the final two years on his deal. Such a move isn’t out of the realm of possibility, as Wentz is currently the only quarterback on Indianapolis’ roster who has thrown a pass in an NFL game. Although the Colts are high on backup quarterback Sam Ehlinger, they don’t figure to go into training camp with him as the starter, and they don’t have a first-round pick to spend on a quarterback because they traded that to Philadelphia in the deal to acquire Wentz.
However, the sunk cost of that pick and the third-rounder they sent to the Eagles won’t prevent the Colts from moving on from Wentz if the right offer presents itself. Nor will the fact that Indianapolis is on the hook for $15 million to Wentz in 2022, regardless of whether or not he plays another down for the Colts.
“When we made the decision at the time, you always do what you think is best with the information you have,” Ballard said. “I don’t ever worry about what we gave up, because we made the best decision moving forward, and whatever the repercussions of that are, they are. We deal with them and we figure out how we can move forward.”
Based on the numbers alone, Wentz would seem a good fit for a quarterback-needy team such as the Steelers. In a 9-8 season in Indianapolis, Wentz threw for 3,563 yards and 27 touchdowns against a mere seven interceptions. However, Ballard’s words suggest that the problem in Indianapolis goes beyond numbers, even as he tried to leave the door open for Wentz to remain the starter.
“I visited with Carson (Tuesday) in my office for an hour, and it was good,” Ballard said. “If the criticism is fair, then we’ve got to be able to look internally, accept that and grow from it, and most of it is pretty fair. It’ll be interesting to see how he grows from this.”
If the Steelers don’t pursue Wentz, the Colts moving on from the quarterback would be a net negative. Indianapolis would likely join the market for the likes of Jimmy Garoppolo or even Aaron Rodgers, driving up the price Pittsburgh might pay for Ben Roethlisberger’s replacement. With the Colts lacking a first-rounder and believing themselves not far from contention, it’s reasonable to expect Indianapolis to be aggressive in acquiring a quarterback if it does move on from Wentz.
“It’s the most scrutinized position in sports, and I think it’s one of the most difficult to play in sports, because you’ve got to make accurate throws with people actively trying to hurt you,” Ballard said. “There’s so much that goes into it, and then having a team around him who can win, so I think that there’s a lot that goes into that.”